What will our grandchildren experience in the year 2080? Or will some of you feel the heat, the climate and social disruption as soon as 2060? Scientific studies are pouring out their warnings - we have already passed the danger levels. And there is no sign of action to stop horrible climate change.
What if the politicians fail to reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the Earth's climate from warming? What if the people of the world keep on pumping out carbon dioxide, as they now do. Can we survive? Will the Earth hit runaway climate change, morphing to another Venus?
The widely accepted danger line is 2 degrees Celsius, that's 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit, global mean temperature rise over pre-industrial levels. We have already warmed at least .7 degrees C. Counting the masking effect of other pollution, the warming in the pipeline may already be around the 2 degree level - and the major polluters show no sign of agreeing on steep cuts at the Copenhagen climate treaty talks in December 2009.
So what will happen?
In this program, we're going to cover major new scientific reports about our climate situation. Then, almost as a relief, we'll go to an interview with one of the long-time activists with solutions, from the UK, Dr. Jeremy Leggett. He's an oil expert who crossed over to Greenpeace, before becoming a solar energy entrepreneur.
I also have some new climate music for you.
Right now, we'll get hot and heavy with an international climate conference held at Oxford in Britain from September 28th to the 30th. The title is: 4 DEGREES & BEYOND. We'll hear the results of some of the first scientific studies of a failed climate world.
MUSIC IN THIS PROGRAM
"Radio, Radio" by Elvis Costello
"Don't Kilowatt" by Seattle group Million Dollar Nile
LINK FOR AUDIO AND SLIDES FROM "4 Degrees & Beyond" Conference:
1. Prof John Schellnhuber, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research "Terra quasi-incognita: beyond the 2 degree line. (past director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research)
2. Dr. Richard Betts, Met Office Hadley Centre "Regional climate changes at 4+ degrees"
3. Prof Nigel Arnell, University of Reading 4+ degrees C: impacts across the global scale
4. Dr. Pier Vellinga, Wageningen University, "Sea level rise and impacts in a 4+C World
5. Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, "Sea-level rise in a 4 degress world
6. Prof David Karoly, University of Melbourne "Wildfire in a 4+ C degree World
7. Dr. François Bemenne, Sciens Po Paris "Cimate-induced Population Displacements in a 4+ degree World
The conference opened with one of the top climate advisors in the world. Professor John Schellnhuber is from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. He is a past director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. The German version of his name is Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. He has directly advised many heads of government, including Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, and even Barack Obama. The title of his talk: "Terra quasi-incognita: beyond the 2 degree line."
This was a presentation to fellow scientists, so part of it is heavy going for the rest of us. It was accompanied by slides, and I'll give you the web address for those.
In order to hit some key points from this speech, and several others from the 4 Degree conference, covering several hours of audio, I'm going to attempt a digest of this latest science.
Professor Schellnhuber explains that the 2 degree target was set in 1995 as the upper limit to avoid species extinction and other dangerous impacts.
The two degree target was just adopted in the recent G8 meeting.
Schellnhuber thinks a world-wide adoption of the 2 degree target is the best we can hope for in Copenhagen - because, quote, "nobody should dream of the possibility that there will be numbers reduction measure for each country in the world, which will be sealed in Copenhagen this year. That's almost impossible."
2 degrees is also the target set by the European Union. It's a compromise: "of course we will lose the coral reefs," but we will save the Greenland Ice Sheet (if 2 degrees over pre-industrial levels can be retained).
More recent work published in the PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) this year, by J.B. Smith and others, including Bill Hare, shows even the 2 degree limit may not be safe.
[Smith J.B. et.al. 2009: Assessing dangerous climate change through an update of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) ‘‘reasons for concern’’. PNAS, February 26 2009. doi:10.1073/pnas.0812355106 Bill Hare was one of the authors.]
A meeting of 2,000 scientists in Copenhagen last May issued another report which called for a peak in global emissions by 2015.
Schellnhuber says we are very lucky that the physics of Earth, which is usually non-linear and very complicated, has provided us a simple yard stick to measure climate change: the total amount of carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere. We can measure that easily, and perhaps control it.
Clip 1 Total Climate Budget 1:14
How fast we get off oil and coal, and how much time is left to preserve remaining forests while controlling agricultural emissions - depends on when we start the cuts. The later we wait, the more wrenching the change will be.
Clip 2 Emission Reduction levels
So if we wait until 2040 to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions - our total carbon budget, allowing us to stay under 2 degrees, the total carbon budget will already be spent. Then, we cannot emit carbon, and must start reducing it, by some unknown technology.
The German advisory council worked out a fair way of distributing of our remaining carbon budget, aiming at a two thirds chance of staying under 2 degrees. They settled on a per capital allowance among all the people of the world - balancing it out better each year, but disregarding our historical responsibility for past emissions. The United States, which starts out emitting 20 tons of CO2 for each and every person every year, would have to stop emitting CO2 altogether by 2020. Germany, which has a lower per capita rate now, would have to stop by 2030. China would have to peak by 2020, and phase out by 2035.
This report was presented at a meeting with the Obama administration, but it was felt the Senate would never agree to ending fossil fuels by 2020. Note that a zero emissions America by 2020 is the project promoted by Al Gore. It exactly matches the science of what we need to protect the world climate.
One solution is to allow countries like Pakistan and Afghanistan, whose people use produce very few emissions from their population - to allow these less developed countries to sell their carbon credits to wealthier nations. The result would be the largest North to South transfer of wealth in the history of the world. A reverse from the days of empires of Europe and North America.
The physics of the Earth doesn't care who burns it, just the total emissions reaching the sky.
Research shows that if we double CO2 in the atmosphere, the result in the long run, perhaps hundreds of years later, there will be a 50 meter sea level rise. That is 193 feet - enough to drown our coastal cities.
Schellnhuber says, quote: "So even at two degrees, this is something which will sink most of our coastlines."
Another scary result of climate disruption is the creation of dead zones in the ocean.
Clip 3 Oxygen holes in the ocean
We'll hear more about the possibility of a deoxygenated ocean, leading to a possible mass extinction event, when I interview Dr. Peter Ward about his new book "The Medea Hypothesis". That's coming up next week on Radio Ecoshock.
Meanwhile we are digesting a speech by Professor John Schellnhuber at the "4 Degrees and Beyond" climate conference at Oxford, UK September 28th.
Another recent scientific paper shows that even if we stop greenhouse gas emissions today, totally, the climate already warm to 2.4 degrees above pre-industrial levels, with severe climate impacts. We are committed now.
We don't know whether the glaciers in the Himalayas will completely melt away from what we have already put in the sky. They are melting fast now. If we go beyond 2 degrees, Schellnhuber notes, those glaciers would go at some point - and they provide the summer river water for all the major rivers of Asia, used by over a billion people. Also interesting, some have called the Himalayan glaciers "the third pole" of the Earth, matching the Arctic and Antarctic. The weight of the glaciers have geophysical implications. We don't know what will happen to the surface of the Earth if that weight is removed from this new mountain system, built from a collision of continents.
The tipping point of the Greenland Ice Sheet, which is already thinning fast, is also not known.
The giant in the room, the biggest tipping point, is the carbon trapped in the Siberian and Northern Canadian permafrost. If that is released, we are toast.
Clip 4 Permafrost melts and we're toast. (That's what he said.)
Scientists have been investigating how these various tipping points might interact. For example, if the Greenland ice sheet melts, it will release a lot of fresh water. How will that impact the ocean thermohaline circulation system - including the Gulf Stream that keeps Europe warm?
Ocean circulation also could impact the Summer Monsoon in Asia - the water that feed billions, although flooding millions.
No research has yet been done on these large scale interactions of tipping points. Dr. Schellnhuber and many others will be releasing a series of papers this December called the PNAS Special Feature on Tipping Elements.
One of the presentations will be on dust as a tipping element. It turns out the largest source of dust in the world is the Bodele Depression, in the African Saharan country of Chad. It used to be the bottom of Lake Chad. Half the dust required to fertilize the Amazon rainforest comes from this Bodele Depression.
All the models agree that the Amazon rainforest will die back due to climate change. Other tipping points in the upcoming paper include the frozen methane on the ocean beds, called clathrates, and the impact of climate disruption on the El Nino Southern Oscillation in the Pacific, the heating of ocean waters that shapes so much of our weather.
There is good news and bad news about the clathrates, the methane ice balls down on the ocean floor. The good news is scientists think clathrate melting, and release of climate heating methane gas, will be slow, over centuries, or even thousands of years. The bad news is it will be unstoppable once it starts.
Let's hear Dr. Schellnhuber say it.
Clip 5 Methane Clathrates
That study on clathrates, coming out next December, is by David Archer, our guest on the September 18th, 2009 Radio Ecoshock Show. His new book is "The Long Thaw". Download our interview as a free mp3 from our website, ecoshock.org.
What about the worst of the worst? Runaway greenhouse effect. The temperature increases until the oceans evaporate away. Earth becomes like Venus. Is it possible? Hans Joachim Schellnhuber thinks not.
Clip 6 Runaway Greenhouse Effect
Black body radiation?? It's a physics term and a little complicated. For our purposes, when considering a warming planet, we know that the molecules and atoms of our physical reality vibrate more when they are heated more. For purposes of measurement, the amount of radiation is compared to a standard - namely an ideal black body, which emits nothing.
Everything emits black body radiation (even you). This is the scientific basis of the so-called greenhouse effect. The math formulas to calculate Earth's black body radiation are complex, but the main variable is temperature.
I'm not a scientist, so if I have described this incorrectly, please write me with a correction. The address is radio at ecoshock.org.
Schellnhuber says black body radiation is a negative feedback - meaning it actually helps to cool the planet.
That cooling is overwhelmed by other positive feedbacks. Remember "positive" doesn't mean "good" - it means a force which adds to an existing trend, such as global warming, or increased precipitation.
The positive feedbacks include more water vapor, evaporating in the increased heat, and possible releases from Permafrost, etc. Schellnhuber doubts there will be runaway climate change, the so-called "Venus effect" - because there is no evidence it has happened in the past.
However, we could have a limited self-reinforcing warming, which would be disastrous for most species, including us. And, it turns out, no one has been able to calculate whether a runaway greenhouse effect could happen. We just don't know.
This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm Alex Smith. That concludes our summary of the opening speech at the 4 DEGREES & BEYOND International Climate Conference held at Oxford, UK on September 28th, delivered by Prof John Schellnhuber, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. The title was "Terra quasi-incognita: beyond the 2 degree line."
You can download audio of the whole speech, plus view the slides, and other speakers from that conference from http://www.eci.ox.ac.uk/4degrees/
Check out our interview with Jeremy Leggett in this week's show. He's a geologist who worked for the major oil companies - before dropping out to use his skills for Greenpeace. It was Leggett, way back in the 1990's, who convinced insurance companies that climate change was real and bad for their business. They were the first major corporations to really "get it" - after their storm disaster bills went through the roof around the world.
Leggett then went to big oil conferences, telling the corporations to spend less on exploration, since eventually they weren't going to be allowed to burn the oil found due to climate change and greenhouse gas controls. That's coming, but slowly, as the world heats up.
Jeremy went on to found his own solar power company, one of the largest in Britain. They specialize in solar power in dreary UK - and yes it can work, even there! Leggett explains how.
Then we take time for a little dirty energy news from Canada - the largest single exporter of fossil fuels to the United States. Not Mexico or Venezuela, or even Saudi Arabia - Canada.
Maybe not for long. There's a world-wide rush to grab a hunk of the world's biggest and dirtiest industrial project - the Canadian tar sands. According to a Globe and Mail article September 1st, by Nathan VanderKlippe, quote: "Calgary-based Athabasca Oil Sands Corp. on Monday sold a 60-per-cent interest in two of its undeveloped projects near Fort McMurray to the international unit of PetroChina Co. Ltd. The transaction will hand approximately three billion barrels of Alberta oil to PetroChina, whose parent is the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp."
And Dick Cheney thought he was going to get it all!
Just imagine a re-awakened Canadian nationalism tries to shut down the Tar Sands to... oh I don't know, save the Arctic climate. Good luck. Now it's an international incident. Not that the Yankee wouldn't have invaded for their share of the gooey stuff.
Might as well make it an international party. The French monster company Total SA is planning a 90,000 barrel a day expansion to it's project at Surmount, co-owned with ConocoPhillips. That would boost Surmount's production to a quarter billion barrels a day. It takes one barrel of fossil fuel to produce just three barrels of oil. Currently there is no price for carbon - just dump it all in the Canadian atmosphere for free! Canadians will just have to install a few more low energy light bulbs, to soak up this storm of industrial CO2 pollution from the Tar Sands. The CEO of Total E&P Canada, Jean-Michel Gires, says his company prices $40 a tonne for carbon - but wait, the oil friendly Canadian government never collects it! No legislation at all. A wild west for climate pollution.
The headline should read "France joins China in a gang-rape of the Canadian landscape."
Greenpeace broke into three oil sands plants in the last three weeks.
Jean-Michel of Total agrees they have some image polishing to do, as they ramp up to high production for 2025 - the year most Western countries need to be totally fossil-free to protect the 2 degree global warming ceiling. They're talking about tar sands production in 2035 - after rising seas and storms will have triggered mass migrations and city devastation. Is this a good investment, really?
Dump Total SA stock, and don't buy their climate killing gas.
Another energy giant, TransAlta runs coal-fired power plants in Canada and the United States. But they want to add a nice green shine. So TransAlta took their fossil fuel profits and purchased a greener company called Canadian Hydro. Developers. Now TransAlta has more hydro and wind power in it's system, taking the company from 15 percent renewables to 22 percent.
TransAlta CEO Steve Snyder - we name names at Radio Ecoshock - says their deep coal pockets will keep greener projects funded, even in difficult times. Or will they shut down some renewables later, saying it doesn't pay? The jury is out - and meanwhile, TransAlta remains a major force for climate pollution.
Contrast that with a new study from the Tyndall Centre in Britain. These scientists have the nerve to suggest that people in rich countries, quote: "must slash living standards to fight climate change." This anti-consumerist treason is actually printed in newspapers over in Europe, in this case by The Times in London, on October 2nd, 2009.
Ben Webster, the Times Environment Editor gives us the scoop. I'll quote the article here.
"Living standards in Britain and other rich countries must fall sharply over the next decade if the world is to avoid catastrophic global warming, according to a leading climate research center.
Consumption of energy-intensive goods and services should be cut and remain capped until low-carbon alternatives are available, said the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research.
The study says that Britain’s carbon dioxide emissions need to fall twice as fast as planned by the Government. It concludes that global greenhouse gas emissions are rising much faster than previously thought.
It says that Britain should commit to making all energy, including for electricity, heating and cars, zero-carbon by 2025, at least 25 years earlier than planned.
The center, a partnership of seven universities including Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester, says that the economies of developed nations will have to shrink and consumption of almost all types of goods will have to fall “in the short to medium term”.
Speaking to The Times, Professor Kevin Anderson, the center’s director, said: “The wealthier parts of the world, including Britain, will have to seriously consider reducing their levels of consumption over the next 10-15 years while we put in place low-carbon technologies.
“That may mean having only one car per household, a smaller fridge, buying fewer clothes and electronic goods and curtailing the number of weekend breaks that we have.
“It’s a very uncomfortable message but we need a planned economic recession. Economic growth is currently incompatible with reductions in absolute emissions.”
The study says that global emissions are rising much faster than has been assumed by Britain and other countries in setting their carbon targets. It says that these targets are “dangerously misleading” because they focus on distant dates, such as 2050, and avoid mentioning the immediate cuts that are needed.
Professor Anderson calculates that emissions in all developed countries must peak by 2012 and fall by 20 per cent a year from 2018 to prevent global temperatures from rising more than 2C above the pre-industrial average."
The current recession, which is actually stage one for larger Depression in my opinion, is already starting to cut some emissions in wealthy countries. Americans drove a billion miles less last year, and bought less crap at the malls. As a result, by one report, overall CO2 emissions dropped by 9 percent last year, from 2007 levels.
That's an astounding result. If President Obama had demanded a 9 percent cut, there would have been death panels and teabaggers galore. Now the recession has awakened at least a few people.
There is already talk among a small cadre of scientists and political advisors that the recession should be prolonged if possible, while we convert away from fossil fuels. Even a false recession might help prevent the Arctic ice fields, and the Himalayas from melting. Give Nature a break.
That may be our only way out. Another scientific study, published in the Journal Science on September 11th, says we don't have the tools to mount any response to a number of intersecting crisis. It's titled: "Looming Global-Scale Failures and Missing Institutions". Basically, the authors studied energy, food, water shortages, a declining ocean, emerging diseases and of course, climate disruption. They found that our system of national governments could not cope with these global issues, often choosing their own self interest over the global commons. Many other governments are simply unable to act, whether in Africa or the United States. The authors found no international institutions strong enough to deal with these issues either.
The science is in. Humans can't cope, and will likely just slide into one disaster after another. We knew that, but it's nice to see it made official.
There's mildly good news, and terrible news, on the Arctic ice front. Recall, we need the polar ice caps to provide ocean and atmosphere circulation. All agriculture and our civilization depends on these cold zones. The good news: The National Snow and Ice Data Center has released new data showing older ice forming over the Arctic Ocean. After the 2007 melt-down, there was concern that a single year's ice layer would melt away quickly. But now we can find some ice two years old, meaning the Arctic Ice might hold on a little longer. Nobody disputes it will disappear in the Summer in the next decade or two. But the longer it stalls, the better for all of us.
The really bad news comes from the British Arctic Survey, in a news release September 23rd, 2009. Satellite lasers show that land-based ice fields in the Arctic and Antarctic are thinning quickly. Quoting from their press release:
"Reporting this week in the journal Nature researchers from British Antarctic Survey and the University of Bristol describe how analysis of millions of NASA satellite measurements* from both of these vast ice sheets shows that the most profound ice loss is a result of glaciers speeding up where they flow into the sea.
The authors conclude that this ‘dynamic thinning’ of glaciers now reaches all latitudes in Greenland, has intensified on key Antarctic coastlines, is penetrating far into the ice sheets’ interior and is spreading as ice shelves thin by ocean-driven melt. Ice shelf collapse has triggered particularly strong thinning that has endured for decades."
The results have been published in the journal Nature. Google around and find the new maps of both the Arctic and Antarctic. The loss is visible and ugly. Some glaciers have doubled their speed toward the Sea. Greenland has lost an incredible amount of ice. It's thinning out, and nobody knows if it will simply crack and fail some day. With the melting now confirmed already, estimates of sea level rise this century will go straight up.
Thank heavens New Yorkers finally found out about it. They were oblivious to a city report saying rising seas would flood the subways and cripple the city. No wonder, as the New York Post is an adamant climate change denier. At least it was.
100,000 copies of a special edition of the New York Post appeared. The fake paper was jammed full of the climate information New Yorkers had been denied - all factual. Greenpeace and the Yes-Men are rumored to have floated the real news for New Yorkers. The giant tabloid headline simply read: "We're Screwed".
That's about it for Radio Ecoshock this week. Visit our pitiful web site any time at ecoshock.org. You can even sign up for our podcast there.
Next week, we'll brighten up a bit - with mass extinction expert Dr. Peter Ward. He says Mother Nature is actually a wild killer.
Thanks for hanging in there.
I'm Alex Smith